At the time of H1N1, the Giffard factory near Saint-Brieuc could manufacture up to 250 million protective masks. Abandoned by the French state, the site has since closed.

The Giffard factory, near Saint-Brieuc, was an industrial flagship that literally exploded in flight due to the pressure of international finance
The Giffard factory, near Saint-Brieuc, was an industrial flagship that literally exploded in flight due to the pressure of international finance (© illustration /

In the midst of a health crisis coronavirus, the nameHoneywell brings back painful memories to Plaintel, in Brittany. The company, located near Saint Brieuc ((Ribs of Armor) and closed in 2018, could manufacture up to 250 million protective masks per year.

Read also: Coronavirus. Faced with the shortage, state services in Occitania call for the donation of masks

“Globalization scandal”

This industrial flagship literally exploded in flight, which makes some say that “the scandal of globalization took place at our doors! “

A feeling relayed in recent days by the union Solidaires des Côtes-d’Armor:

Today, the return to reality is brutal and it is with amazement that the whole country discovers with the sanitary disaster of the coronavirus that it has practically no stocks of masks, however essential to protect the nursing staff, the entourage of the sick and all the employees forced to work to prevent the whole country from collapsing. The closure of the Plaintel Honeywell plant and the destruction of its production facilities, as well as the inaction of the public authorities, represent a scandal which must be denounced. The chain of responsibility in this matter should also be highlighted. Honeywell leaders and state officials are now accountable to the country.

September 11, 2001 and the H1N1 crisis

Established in 1984 in Plaintel, the Giffard company then filed a European patent for the “production of filter elements, in particular respiratory masks”. Just before the asbestos scandal broke out, health insurance ranked it among the dozen or so national companies capable of meeting the challenges of protecting employees, particularly for insulation work.

The company then joined the Dalloz group, which acquired companies in the United States and Great Britain. Its turnover, which already exceeded one billion francs, a quarter of which for respiratory protection, is experiencing meteoric growth.

During the September 11, 2001 attacks, Giffard received an order for 500,000 masks to protect New York firefighters and rescuers. In 2007, the Dalloz group became Sperian Protection and continued its international development.

In a few years, the French State has committed 80 million euros in orders following an agreement made for the production of FFP2 masks, spurred on by Minister of Health Roselyne Bachelot. In 2009 the H1N1 flu arrived. The Plaintelaise company was at the heart of the government’s strategy: an additional 25 million were put on the table. The Sperian group increases the factory’s production capacity by 60%.

Read also: Coronavirus. Near Falaise, masks dating from the H1N1 flu could be reused to alleviate the shortage

Honeywell and the withdrawal of the French state

The following year Sperian was bought by the American conglomerate Honeywell, a giant which took over from the French specialist in personal protective equipment. By a process well known in the stock market: a takeover bid at € 117 per share, an increase of 67% compared to the price of € 70 offered by the European investment fund Cinven.

Rumors quickly spread about the future of the Plaintel site. Especially since after the H1N1 crisis, the French state does not renew its contract. The disappointments are linked. Peripheral manufacturing of wipes for operating rooms or nuclear clothing is stopped. The order book is empty and social plans follow one another. In 2016, the company now only employs 58 people, whereas it had 300 in 2010!

Read also: Coronavirus. Rozen stops production to make washable masks

” A massacre “

The ax fell in May 2018 when Honeywell decided to close the Plaintel factory, whose production is outsourced to Tunisia. Sad epilogue of a shipwreck that probably would not have happened if France had decided to renew its stocks of FFP2 masks …

Former employees do not mince words:

When we see that today the caregivers do not even have masks to protect themselves, it is still lamentable, when there was at home a nice working tool. It’s a massacre!

The union representatives fought to maintain the activity of the company of the Sperian group, bought in 2010 by the American conglomerate Honeywell.
Union officials struggled to keep the Sperian group’s business, acquired in 2010 by the American conglomerate Honeywell, in business. (© Le Penthièvre)

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